There are Bibles and then there are handbooks for everyone interested from making bombs to creating political conflicts. These can be long-drawn and full of jargon that the lay reader may or may not fully understand. It is the same with the art of being a great sniper. The best way is always to get hold of a reasonably good work of fiction where there is less of pedagogic telling and more of showing through a story plot. Sniper’s Eye by Mainak Dhar does exactly this without ever pretending to be a text-book.
Sniper’s Eye is a story that captures all the details of a sniper’s actions without lecturing on the importance of sight, smell, shape, and silhouette. The book has the right mix of snipers, terrorists, Indo-Pak relations, spies, counter-espionage, intelligence agencies, corruption, greed, ambition, and media misconceptions but the best part is that there are subtle nuances of love as well that appear without affecting the dynamics of action-packed pages. Aditya Ghosh or Aadi is from the special forces of the Indian army who has been forced by circumstances to lie low, is in love with Zoya from the corporate world, and stays in Mumbai. Aadi obviously comes ‘from a world where the odours I was familiar with were far more earthy and elemental – the smell of burning, the whiff of soil inches from your nose as you crawl along it, the sickly sweet stench of death’ and knows beyond doubt that ‘the toughest weapon we possessed was our mind. A soldier’s state of mind often dictated the outcome of a battle’.
When a person like Aadi happens to be with Zoya, his girl-friend, in a mall and a single shot kills a man right ahead of where he is, what will you as a reader expect? Will you wish he holds Zoya’s hand and rushes out or somewhere safe? Will you want him to be stunned and look around confused? Obviously no. he is the sort of person who instinctively knows that ‘when you can never take life for granted, you shouldn’t leave anything unsaid or undone’ and, therefore, rushes towards the perceived direction where the shot could have come from and… quite literally deep dives into a complex plot where a series of killings has been planned. A plot that makes him face the unsavory realities of a plot that not just involves officials of our own intelligence agencies but is also ‘rapidly spiraling out of control’ because something that ‘started as a single shooting in Mumbai’ would sooner than expected turn into a tsunami of shootings and had the potential to expand ‘into broader terror attacks’.
The book advances fast into plots and sub-plots highlighting sordid facets about the way things happen in the higher official echelons of the intelligence agencies and places a dissected perspective of all the things that ‘they never show on the news because if people realized just how awful war is, they would stop asking for it too often’. The protagonist of this story isn’t offset by any of this and goes about his task of revealing the truth in a perfectly surgical manner. I guess this is because Aadi knows that it is best to ‘plan before the adrenaline rush of combat hits and then learning to control one’s thoughts and actions despite the chaos’. Cocooned between all the action is a soft-natured human who cares for Zoya and those who assume that it is sacrilege for romance to step into a book that is so much about military action will be surprised to learn that Aadi believes fervently that the ‘opposite of fear was not strength, it was love’ and that ‘the best way to win a fight was to avoid it’.
The book is a literal treatise on the fundamentals that snipers follow and any perceptive reader will know when Mainak Dhar is talking about them. By the time one finishes reading this book one will know that it isn’t logical to fire until one is certain of a kill and that every victory depends upon in-depth awareness of intelligence details, a high level of preparedness, attention to details, and oodles of patience. One would know how beneficial it is to allow any enemy sniper to get accustomed to using a dummy until he becomes careless about it and that in any war of nerves all that helps is unflinching concentration and endurance. All the action points in the novel are showing all these traits and more and this is one reason why I have had to read the book more than once and delay writing my review.
By the time one finishes reading this novel one is quite firmly in consonance with all that the protagonist decides to do without attempting to flay the easy convergence of genres that is obvious. Even the hardiest soldiers that pop up as minor characters in the book have something or the other to tell a reader. For instance, the way the writer decides to explain the torture of another retired officer of the army when he explains that ‘in reality, everyone broke under torture. Everyone. It was just a matter of how long you took, and how much of your dignity you lost along the way’. I particularly loved the way the relationship with the enemy is explained: ‘We both thought we were fighting the good fight, in our own ways, and we had both been misled and betrayed by those we thought we could count on’. This last quote speaks a lot about what a reader will discover when he or she gets to read this book. Of course, Aadi’s final aim is to ensure that he is able to ‘expunge all the old records and inquiries… get a clean service record again… once again call myself someone who served as a major in the army…’ I am not going to tell you if he finally succeeds in this mission because you will surely need to read the book to know if this happened.
All that I am willing to reveal is that books like the one reviewed here boldly proclaim that ‘when you know death is part and parcel of what you’ve signed up for, fear of death doesn’t hold you back’. I have loved reading this book and am mighty glad that a copy was shared by the writer himself.
Title: Sniper’s Eye
Author: Mainak Dhar
Publisher: 4Hours Books
08 January 2019